Shocked by a $1,443 Bill From My Toyota Dealership

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When Katherine LaFaso starts leasing a Toyota Prius, her dealership sends her a mysterious $1,443 bill. But for what?

Question: I leased a Toyota Prius last year and turned in my 2010 RAV4 with six months left on the lease. Toyota sent me a bill for $1,443, which I wasn’t expecting.

I called Prestige Toyota in Ramsey, N.J., and spoke to a man named Bill who asked me to fax everything and [said] that he would handle it. I am a single mom working six days a week and very busy, and thought it was taken care of when I didn’t hear back.

That is, until I received a call from a collection agency asking about the $1,443 bill. Then I was really upset. I called Toyota and was informed Bill is no longer there and he didn’t hand my case over to anyone. Therefore, it went to collection. That’s totally unfair to me, the customer.

The dealership couldn’t help me, so I’ve appealed to Toyota Financial, which is where I am now. Can you help? — Katherine LaFaso, Paramus, N.J.

Answer: If your Toyota dealership said it would handle your surprise bill, then it should have handled it. It looks as if Bill didn’t pass your case along to anyone when he left, which left you with an unpaid bill, one which was eventually referred to the collection agency. Toyota shouldn’t have gone there.

I dug into your case and found out why Toyota charged you. About one-third of the fee was for a headrest that was missing from your RAV4 when you exchanged it for the Prius. The rest was a “transportation” fee and a charge to repair a few nicks in the bumper of your previous vehicle.

Whether these charges were warranted or not, your Toyota dealership should have taken the time to go over them before you signed your new lease.

You returned the headrest to Toyota, so it should have zeroed out the charge for that item. And the dealership should have shown you a repair record for the RAV4 and its own bill for “transporting” the vehicle to wherever it needed to go before it was sold. As far as I can tell, it did not do that.

Your experience underscores the importance of getting everything in writing, including any possible fees associated with your exchange. These should be clearly disclosed when you make a leasing decision, not buried in the fine print. A representative should have reviewed all of these charges with you, not broadsided you with a bill after you left.

Appealing this to Toyota corporate was a smart idea. I list the names of all the Toyota executives on my site, but it looks as if no one was interested in your story. That’s unfortunate.

I contacted the dealership on your behalf, and it canceled your bill.

Elliott’s latest book is “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Email him at [email protected]

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